Study Shows Quality New Member Orientation Programs Lead to Greater Commitment and Participation

The strength of any union depends on the degree to which its members support the union and show that support by getting involved in union activities. Convincing members to support the union, and participate in its work, is one of the central challenges that every local union leader and activist faces. New research, released by the Labor School at Penn State University and Jobs With Justice Education Fund, provides strong evidence that leaders and activists can strengthen support for the union among new members and increase the degree to which they get involved in the union, through effective new member orientation (NMO) programs.

In workplaces where a new hire is not required to join the union or pay fees, it is critically important that the union makes sure the new hire understands the significant role they play and how they and their family will benefit from membership. Providing a positive introduction to the union will greatly increase the chances that the new hire will join the union in the short run and get involved in the long run.

The survey Penn State conducted looked at the interaction that nearly 500 new members of a large national union from across the country had with their union during their first year on the job. The results indicated that members who participated in a NMO program that they found helpful had significantly higher commitment to the union than those who did not participate in a NMO. It also found that new members with higher levels of commitment were more likely to participate in the work of the union than members with lower levels of commitment.

The clear conclusion from this research is that high-quality NMO programs have a positive impact on members’ level of commitment to the union, and the more committed new members are to the union, the more likely they are to participate in union activities.

An important part of the findings is that for NMO programs to have a positive impact, the programs themselves have to be viewed as helpful by new members. NMOs that are sufficiently long to communicate the information new members need to know about the union and that provide high-quality informational material are viewed by new members as more helpful than shorter, less informative programs.

This new study confirms the principle that first impressions make a lasting difference. At a point in time when many union leaders and activists worry that the next generation of workers do not understand or value the important role unions have played, they can help make sure they do by putting every new hire through a high-quality NMO program. The result will be a higher level of commitment and participation among new members and a stronger union.

Learn more about the study and best practices in creating an effective NMO program.